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Judge Rotenberg Center Staff Credentials

June 8, 2010

more data from the NYSED Review:

The majority of staff in the “alternative learning centers” and “small conference rooms” are Mental Health Aides (MHA’s). (JRC employs a total of 386 MHAs and 254 Mental Health Relief Aides in the school and residences. Most of these individuals, 468 of the total 640 MHAs and Mental Health Relief Aides, have completed only a high school education.)…

JRC’s psychologists or clinicians develop student behavior programs. JRC’s psychology department lists a total of 17 clinicians. Of these clinicians, although 12 have some doctoral level training in psychology, only four have licensure from the State of Massachusetts as Psychologist Providers, one is licensed as a psychologist in another state and one has a license as an Educational Psychologist. A high level of competence in psychology and behavior analysis is necessary for ethical practice when the most intrusive and aversive procedures are used in the treatment of children with behavior problems as complex and challenging as many who are approved for Level III aversive behavioral interventions at JRC…

Staff development is provided via a) 2-week orientation, and b) 30 mandated hours of in-service training. A review of the staff development plan indicates minimal, if any, training on student characteristics; functional behavioral assessments; reinforcement; shaping or other behavioral techniques used for increasing positive social behavior; and educational supports that include instructional methods and curriculum. Staff receives one hour of training on collecting and graphing data, but no required training on positive teaching procedures. In addition, all staff appears to receive the same training, regardless of their particular function (e.g., teachers do not necessarily receive additional training in educational supports; QA team members do not necessarily receive training in behavior analysis)….

During the May 16-18 site visit, it was confirmed that the majority of staff serving as classroom teachers at JRC are not certified teachers. One crisis classroom teacher the team spoke to has a high school diploma and had acquired college credits through distance learning Internet courses.

During the initial site visit, the team reviewed the credentials of the teaching staff in the 21 classrooms at JRC:

– One is certified/licensed by the Massachusetts Department of Education (MDOE) as a special education teacher;
– Eleven have academic waivers for teaching “moderate disabilities” or “severe disabilities” from MDOE; and
– Nine have no certification, licensure or MDOE academic waivers to teach special education.

The above couple paragraphs should scare you. Teaching is an extremely hard job. Teaching a classroom of ordinary children is incredibly stressful and difficult; dealing with special needs kids is infinitely worse. It is not something you can extrapolate from experience with ordinary disruptive children; you cannot just scale up the techniques used on an ordinary student who often breaks rules to one whose disruptive behaviour is rooted in autism, bipolar, an anxiety disorder, or similar. The obvious response that would work on a neurotypical kid often does nothing, at best, and has a good chance of actively making things worse when applied to someone with severe psychological problems.

This is why specialized training is important – handing children with severe special needs (remember, a big chunk of JRC kids ended up there after a stay in a psychiatric hospital – these aren’t your garden-variety super ADHD kids) over to people who only have a normal teaching certificate is profound negligence at best, and putting them in the care of “teachers” with only a high school degree is potentially dangerous.

Of particular note is that the teachers aren’t trained in instructional methods or the school curriculum, which begs the question: what are they actually teaching? Apparently, they don’t teach much of anything. The staff/student interaction is apparently limited to this:

Classroom visitations by the review team revealed that limited interactions occur between students or between staff and students. The main interactions witnessed involved staff rotating GED electrodes, as required for GED safety, on students’ bodies when an alert, set at hourly intervals, instructed staff to rotate the electrodes. The rotation of electrodes is necessary to prevent skin burns that may result from repeated application of the shock to the same contact point on the student’s body.
Other observed interactions involved staff making rote statements regarding the student’s behavior program, such as “turn around and keep working” or limited social praise “good eating.”

Note that “education” or “role-modeling” is not on that list. So if they aren’t teaching the students anything academic, then they’re at least providing basic therapy and training, like social skills, speech therapy, physical therapy, occupational training, and so on, right? Wrong. In fact, RJC goes out of their way to deny access to therapy to children who need it.

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